Frost Illustrated Staff Report
FORT WAYNE—According to statistics compiled by groups such as Entrepreneur Weekly, Small Business Development Center, Bradley University and the University of Tennessee Research, 25 percent of new businesses fail in their first year; 36 percent of those who make it to their second year then fail. By year five, 55 percent of those left fail and by year 10, a whopping 71 percent of those few that still exist from that initial start up year fail. Given that, 20 years in business is a rarity.
Victor Eugene Butler, or “Gene” as he is known to most folks in the community, was well aware of the possible pitfalls and failure rates when he decided to forgo the corporate fast track, even declining a vice president’s position in a major medical technology firm, to go into business for himself. That was 20 years ago.
Today, he’s still in business as founder, owner and operator of Community Care Pharmacy. Situated right in the heart of the central city in the Lafayette Medical Center at the corner of Lafayette and Pontiac streets, Community Care and Butler have earned a reputation as brilliant beacons of light in the Summit City.
Butler’s name consistently crops up when talking about people who support organizations that focus on developing the community, particularly the African American community. He’s served on the NAACP board, worked with the Fort Wayne Urban League, spearheaded work of the African American Healthcare Alliance and supported numerous community events, especially those focusing on education, health and the spiritual well-being of the community. Along similar lines, he’s active in his church, Turner Chapel AME, where he’s served in various official capacities both as a member of various organizations and as the head of a number of efforts.
As a business owner, Butler has set and maintained a standard, not just for the African American community but for businesses in general. Community Care is immaculately maintained, spotless in presentation with a pleasant and friendly atmosphere. The staff is well-trained, polite, friendly but always business-like, knowledgeable and helpful. The product delivered there is top–quality and affordable for customers.
He said he demands the best possible from himself and his staff because that’s what the community deserves.
Still, he takes nothing for granted, giving credit where he says credit ultimately is always due.
“I know that I have been blessed with some tools and people who focused on me,” said Butler, explaining that no one does anything totally on their own and that God’s grace is key in any life success. “Over the 20 years, God has blessed us and the community says they still want us.”
Butler’s story and the story of how Community Care Pharmacy came to be would make a fascinating, inspiring read that, perhaps, he’ll someday write. Ask him about his philosophy on business and life and general, and you quickly get the sense the Grand Rapids, Mich., native who decided to make his new family home in Fort Wayne, could talk hours on end about how God—often through people close to him such as his beloved mother, the late Dorothy Mae Butler and people in the community—were there to push him to his potential and guide him.
There’s a loving seriousness in his voice when he tells you how his mother worked a number of jobs to make sure he got and education and how she borrowed a station wagon to make sure he got to the University of Michigan—which he calls the finest school in the nation—on time.
“My auntee and mom took me with borrowed suitcases and I never, looked back,” he said.
His mother told him education was that important—important enough to do what you had to get it.
“I had a momma who wasn’t taking no mess!” exclaimed Butler. “Her whole goal was her children were going to be educated and not to be timid about what they wanted.”
He’s candid about wanting to leave college early on to “work a year” to earn money for a car. But, his mother and his uncle (through pioneering black businessman and GM top-tier executive Roy Roberts) instead got him a summer job at an automotive plant, where he made enough to buy a decent car. Of course they made sure he had one of the hardest, dirtiest jobs in the plant. They also made sure he was fired on his 89th day—one day before he would have become a union member. Not that there was anything wrong with a union career in the automotive industry, said Butler. It was just that his mother, uncle and Roberts saw different potential in him. The day he was fired was monumental.
“That was one of the best days of my life, but I had earned enough money that summer to buy a car,” but the experience convinced him to go back to school.
And, there was Arthur Sherman, a trustee at the church back in Grand Rapids, who made Butler a junior trustee. After spending some time under Sherman’s tutelage, the older man called Butler to him following a church anniversary.
“You have been under my wing for two years,” said Sherman. “You need to take care of this for me. I need for you to take this to the bank. I have something else to do.”
Butler, who was 19 at the time, said his mentor handed him a bag with about $30,000 in it. To this day he said he never knew if Mr. Sherman had someone follow him to the bank for back up or what, but Butler said he understands the life lesson.
“He knew I needed to understand responsibility,” said Butler.
Sherman—along with his mother—taught him another important lesson early on.
“He hated selfishness. It’s selfish for you to have knowledge and gifts and for you to keep it,” explained Butler.
Sherman taught him that’s because no one gets it on his or her own, so they owe it to others to pass it on.
“He hated the whole idea of a personality who thought they did everything on their own.”
Along the way, Butler learned many other lessons, among them, to be his own person.
Fresh out of college, he became the corporate wiz kid on the block, eventually landing a job at the prestigious Zimmer Corporation, considered a world leader in medical musculoskeletal technology. Butler shot up the ranks and ended up a project leader there while merely in his 30s. But, he wasn’t totally happy. While he and wife Raejeanne Butler were living the “post college black folks living in Chicago life,” Gene Butler said his life wasn’t really his own. He was out of town two to three days a week. Often, he had to get on a corporate jet and head to somewhere like New York straight from the office with no prior warning, calling home to tell his wife he was leaving. In fact, he had been called away to Baltimore for days when Raejeanne found out she was pregnant with their daughter Simone. She couldn’t wait all week to tell her husband so he had to hear the news of the family blessing over the phone. During the pregnancy, she once was forced to travel to Scotland to spend time with him because business called. That wasn’t the life he wanted.
“An entrepreneurial life made more sense to me,” said Butler. “I was never in control of my life in corporate life.”
He told his bosses he was leaving to create his own business. They offered him an assistant vice president’s position—he still hadn’t reached age 40. Butler turned it down and his boss told him if things didn’t work out after a couple of years, he was welcome back.
“I wasn’t planning on using that favor,” said Butler. “Walking out of a corporate job to go start a business, I can look back and say I don’t miss it.”
He said he spent a year and a half planning before he opened the doors to Community Care Pharmacy. While there is an air of self-assuredness and confidence about him in any endeavor Butler chooses to undertake, there also is an unmistakable sense of gratitude and humility. He hasn’t taken anything for granted—not in the beginning and not now.
“I had no misconceptions. Most businesses only last one to two, three years,” he said. “I knew it could fail. That part of it, you know.”
He said you have to work extra hard when you’re in business for yourself.
“You have to wake up every morning and put your shoes on right.”
Butler said he knows he’s “not perfect,” but he has lots of invaluable assets to help him steer he right course.
“Learning things from other people has been the blessing of my life,” he explained. “The pharmacy has been a journey of many interesting contributions by people, sometimes people I would have never expected to teach me things, but people have always been able to teach me.”
And, those lessons can come from a variety of folks—young and old.
“Absolutely, you have to respect your elders, but every now and then, somebody younger that you can tell you something important.”
He boils the secret of learning in life down to one word: “Listen.”
One of the voices he still listens to is that of his mother. Though she passed away in February of this year, Butler said he still heads her counsel.
“I’ve really struggled with losing my mother and still have problems with it. It’s been one of the most difficult things in my life,” he explained. “I called her every Sunday night. Now I find I still have to talk to her on Sunday—but now I have to do it in a different way.”
Butler said God has given him so much directly and so much through other people, it’s important to give some back. That’s why he chose to open the pharmacy in the heart of the community and that’s why he does more than just sell medications to people.
Although Fort Wayne wasn’t even on the map when he first thought about opening a pharmacy, the idea of Lafayette Medical Center—a black-owned medical center in the heart of the community with a majority of black healthcare practitioners—represented an opportunity to give something back.
“Something was special about the place and from a business perspective made sense,” he said. “There were just two pharmacies on this side of town and no strong community presence on the south side of Fort Wayne.”
While Community Care Pharmacy prides itself in giving top quality service to everyone, reaching out to underserved populations, such as those on the south side of town, was key to Butler, who remembers that it was just such a community that supported him in his growth and development. Improving health for people is key to improving the quality of life for them and that’s something he said he owes the community.
“The idea to our whole approach is that we can bring our community a level of understanding where they can improve their health,” said Butler.
That requires more than just selling wares.
“Just being a drug distribution point is not what we do here.
We need to be an educator,” he explained.
Butler regularly talks with patients about what to expect from the medicines they take, what options they have in choosing medication, what actions they can take to make the medication more effective or what lifestyle choice they might be able to make to lessen their dependence on medications at some point. His goal is to help by giving others the benefit of his knowledge and other blessings and to share what others have bestowed upon him. He said that’s what he has to do to show his gratitude for what God has done for him and what the community has supported.
Again, he takes none of his success for granted and doesn’t know what will come tomorrow. He’s just thankful for today.
“I have been blessed to be here for 20 years and I’ll get back to you on the 21st,” he said.